January 9, 2006
Send in the ClownsBy Matt May
Has there ever been a less—serious group of United States Senators sitting in judgment of a Supreme Court nominee than the Democrat side of the Judiciary Committee as presently constituted? As Congress returns to Washington and the committee comes to order to question Judge Samuel Alito on his efforts to chain black Americans and keep women barefoot and pregnant, it is worthwhile examining the examiners to help us keep certain things in mind as the confirmation hearings unfold.
This past Wednesday, Judge Alito received a unanimous rating of 'well—qualified' from the American Bar Association, the highest rating a judicial nominee can receive. When, in early 2001, President George W. Bush halted the ABA's role in the quasi—official screening process for federal bench appointees, Patrick Leahy and Charles Schumer cried foul. In a letter to the President, the two called the ABA ranking 'the gold standard' by which nominees should be judged and pledged to get the ABA back in the game.
Yet Sen. Leahy said then—Judge John Roberts — one who also received the 'well—qualified' moniker — held 'radical' views of the far right. The gold standard was also somehow not good enough for nominees to lower courts such as Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen. We await their explanation as to why their own gold standard does not also wash for Judge Alito, and perhaps the unveiling of the heretofore unknown 'platinum standard' required for judges nominated by Republicans.
By the way, when you listen to Sen. Schumer lecture Judge Alito about constitutional law when it pertains to civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment (or matters of race, for that matter), keep in mind that Sen. Schumer has yet to apologize to Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele for two Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffers under his watch stealing the lieutenant governor's credit report.
The spectacle of Edward M. Kennedy sitting in judgment of anyone's fitness to dispense justice is laughable without him uttering a word. Yet the 'liberal lion' will no doubt follow that same blueprint questioning Judge Alito that guided his questioning of Justice Roberts. Sen. Kennedy lectured then—Judge Roberts about the 'march of progress' and alluded to the now—discredited notion that poor minorities suffered disproportionately in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
Ted Kennedy and equal protection under the law: A match made in Heaven.
Look for the man who has been 'doing more for Massachusetts' in the Senate for nearly 50 years to again dust off brother Bobby's speeches and imply that the evil Bush nominees are behind the times and need to be bullied into doing the right thing before being allowed a seat on the Supreme Court. Sen. Kennedy called then—Judge Roberts' writings on the law 'mean—spirited' and said to him that he 'did not grasp the seriousness of the impact of discrimination on our country as a whole.'
No doubt Judge Alito is in for the same, though perhaps we will end up thanking Teddy merely for not 'Borking' Alito full bore.
Of all the clowns on this committee, the one with the brightest red nose and funniest looking shoes is without question Joe Biden. His pompous recitations have the odd characteristic of being pedantic while being simultaneously unintelligent and unserious. His efforts at the 'Aw shucks, folks' persona make most everyone cringe (recall his greeting Justice Roberts with 'Hey, Judge' before commencing his tortured statement on the Roberts baseball analogy).
The classic Biden 'All About Me' modus operandi was on display during the Roberts hearings as he ate up his allotted time with an opening statement in which there was somewhere a question on the so—called 'Ginsburg rule.' When Judge Roberts attempted to answer thoughtfully, Biden interrupted with 'I don't have much time, but go ahead.'
Later, Sen. Biden accused Judge Roberts of 'filibustering' during an answer. Imagine, Joe Biden accusing someone else of talking too much. Judge Alito would do well to give one—sentence answers to avoid such accusations, but then Sen. Biden will claim for all the world to hear that his fellow passengers on the train to and from Delaware think that 'Sam's just hiding something.'
Dick Durbin will likely grill Judge Alito about civil liberties and the war on terrorism, perhaps even venturing into one his favorite subjects — torture. As you will recall, Sen. Durbin is of the opinion that American soldiers are no better than the lieutenants of Pol Pot and Josef Stalin, and if anyone of you out there who misinterpret what the Senator from Illinois says about it, well too bad. Instead of being censured by his colleagues, Sen. Durbin was allowed to maintain his seat on the Judiciary Committee. A man who accused American soldiers of torture and murder is permitted to render judgment upon a potential Supreme Court Justice. It is bad enough that Sen. Durbin has a single vote on the floor on this or any other matter, but quite something else altogether that he is given a platform to publicly question anyone on matters of law and order.
The same can be said of Russ Feingold, a man who, in short, would rather let our enemies plot their attacks on innocent American civilians without surveillance rather than leave open the smallest possibility that Aunt Martha's library records might be reviewed. He led off his questioning of then—Judge Roberts with a number of civil liberties 'concerns' and will no doubt repeat his performance with Judge Alito. The playbook seldom changes and the 'concerns' are many.
While known to have a reasonable thing to say about one issue or another every few months, Dianne Feinstein threatened at one point to turn the Roberts hearings into an off—Broadway production of 'The Eight Democrats You Meet in Hell.' Her questioning of Judge Roberts was downright comedic, and unbecoming of a United State Senator who inexplicably threw the law out of the equation pertaining to the Supreme Court and more in line with a five—part series on 'Oprah.' Recall some of the statements thrown Judge Roberts' way by the Senator from California:
Somewhere, John Marshall poured himself a stiff drink.
None of this is to claim that the Senate Judiciary Committee should refrain from vigorously questioning nominees to the federal bench and merely accede to the wishes of the White House. But when the questioning is done by a group as unserious and contemptible as the current crew of Democrats that sit on the panel, a group that constantly moves the goal line and shifts the ground rules, the proceedings take on an air of ridiculousness that stains Congress and the Court. The above are but just a few examples of many, yet their questions and statements are given weight by a news media that examines not the questions or the questioners but calls those questions legitimate simply because they were mouthed by Senators.
Judge Alito — as was John Roberts — is fully qualified for the Supreme Court. Let's not pretend that he is anywhere near the reactionary partisan who, to use one of Sen. Schumer's favorite phrases, is 'in the mold' of someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who sailed through committee and the full Senate. To do so is folly, but that is exactly what will happen because folly is what these Democrats do.